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Processing Resentment.

23 October 2013

One of the fundamental emotions that alcoholics deal with, especially before we sober up, is resentment. Resentment drives us to drink as much as any other thing in our lives. I suspect that resentment is also a source of misery for non-alcoholics; I know that al-anon deals with it extensively, and I know I see resentment splashed everywhere by lots people who externally seem to be unhappy. But of course, I can’t really speak to other people’s experiences. I can only talk about myself, and my own experience, and that of the many, many recovered alcoholics who have related their stories to me.

Resentments are particularly toxic because they, by their definition, don’t go away. We feel we are wronged, and we keep reliving the experience, like a trauma, over and over again. Nursing the anger and the frustration or the regret, until it is so present that we feel the urgent need for relief. This is where, for we alcoholics, disaster lies. We drink to assuage the negative feeling of resentment. But this doesn’t address the problem; we sober up to find the resentment still present. So we drink again, trying to forget. Trying to obliterate.

The key to understanding and processing resentments, in AA at least, is to understand four basic things (we do most of this work in our fourth step, but it is ongoing work in the tenth as well). (1) What was the event? (2) Who was involved? (3) What part of my self, or my psyche, does it impact? and (4) How did I contribute or participate? If we look fearlessly and thoroughly, we can almost always find a way in which we contributed to our own unhappiness. So people think that this means we are blaming ourselves for the wrongs that were done to us. But that isn’t true. Sometimes, yes, we have to accept blame. But sometimes our own participation is simply a fact of the circumstance, and not part of the cause.

When I deal with resentments these days, I almost always find that my part in it was not disengaging when I knew that I couldn’t make a difference. This is especially true about online arguments. The “someone is wrong on the internet” syndrome. If I want to be at peace, I need to learn to not care when other people are saying or doing things that I think are foolish or wrong, unless they directly impact me. I don’t have the power to influence, correct, or convince most people. And even if I do, it’s usually not my place to anyway. It can bruise my ego that everyone doesn’t immediately see that I’m right. Well, I often find I’m wrong. Sometimes, other people see it first. And that’s ok.

Instead of over-engaging, it’s better to have my own place (here!) where I can say my piece. And if it’s valuable to anyone other than me, than that’s nice. And if it isn’t, well, the only person I can work on is me anyway. So my resentments against others are not useful. Not to me, and certainly not to anyone else. My job is simply to keep my own side of the street clean. Other people have other opinions, other ways of engaging. If I don’t like it, it’s not my job to try to change it. It’s my job to separate from it and simply be the kind of person that I want to be.

Let the storms spin on. They are what they are. Acceptance is the key to peace, for me. The world is the way it is, and I can come to embrace the tautology.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. DrLizzyMoore permalink
    25 October 2013 20:33

    This is awesome. Wise words. Thank you

  2. Syd permalink
    30 October 2013 07:12

    I agree. It isn’t my job to castigate others. I need to look at myself and my motives first and foremost.

  3. Tory K permalink
    8 November 2013 11:04

    Wow, this is a great site that I stumbled upon. I’m working on the finishing touches of my 4th step inventory and the part where I was still struggling “what part did I have in this” was difficult for a couple of them because I really didn’t have a lot of options to not be in the middle of it.

    For now, I’m going to put down “circumstances put me there” and work on those some more w/ my sponsor.

    I’m really amazed and happy to have found AA and seen what great work it does. I wish more organizations held true to the 12 traditions, especially singleness of purpose. I really think that is why this had stood the test of time.

    • 8 November 2013 14:30

      Hi Tory! Glad you’re getting sober and working the steps. Keep it up! And while I agree that many people could use the steps that don’t have access or know that it could help them, it’s also only our job to clean our own side of the street.

      Other people are other people. Let them be themselves.

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